Church Denies Authorizing Harvard Graduation Protest



The leadership of Harvard-Epworth Church is angered that they unknowingly hosted the “People’s Commencement,” a large-scale protest supporting Palestine, believing they had rented their venue to a small student group. They claim they were not informed about the true nature of the event, which was held in response to the barring of 13 students from graduating due to participation in pro-Palestine demonstrations. The organisers, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP), assert that they clearly stated the space was being reserved to celebrate the barred students and mourn the loss of Palestinian lives, but deny implying it was for any specific student group.

Harvard-Epworth Church Leaders Distressed Over Unapproved Protest

Leaders of Harvard-Epworth Church, recently used for the ‘People’s Commencement’ after the pro-Palestine walkout during Harvard graduation, expressed dismay and anger over their space being used for a large-scale protest, as per an email sent to the church community.

Pastors Mitch Hay and Barb Lemmel stated in their joint email that they didn’t consent for Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP) to orchestrate this protest and understood they were renting the venue to a “small student group” to honor 13 undergraduates prevented from graduating.

The pastors denoted that the church became the focus of a significant student protest, and they were displeased that this heavily political message occurred in the sanctuary while they were on vacation in Italy.

During the alternative graduation, HOOP organizer and Harvard Law School graduate Lea H. Kayali announced that the church was “generously offered” to organizers.

Lemmel later stated that the church wasn’t notified of any upcoming demonstrations, the ‘People’s Commencement,’ or HOOP’s involvement. The church would not have permitted banners or flags to be displayed in the sanctuary.

Over 1,000 people exited Harvard’s Commencement as degrees were conferred, many later attended an alternative event at Harvard-Epworth Church to honor the barred students who had taken part in a 20-day encampment protest in Harvard Yard.

Lemmel clarified that the student who rented the church for the ‘People’s Commencement’ had previously rented the space for another Harvard student group, leading to an assumption of affiliation with the same group.

However, HOOP clarified that the student made it clear that the reservation was on behalf of Harvard students and members of the community wishing to celebrate the 13 seniors being denied their degrees and to mourn the loss of Palestinian lives.

In their email, the pastors noted that while Harvard-Epworth has a history of hosting ‘difficult conversations about controversial issues,’ the ‘nationalistic tone’ of this demonstration did not align with their values.

Despite these allegations, HOOP praised the hospitality of the church staff and expressed gratitude for their support.

HOOP added that the attendance at the protest exceeded their expectations but did not address the church’s claims that the protest was unauthorized and that they were misled.

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